Signia by Hilton Atlanta

Crafting Culinary Equality: Inside the All-Female Pastry Team of Signia by Hilton Atlanta

3:30 a.m. The buzz of a phone alarm sounds. No time to snooze. Daniella Lea Rada gets up and prepares to make her way to downtown Atlanta. 

Atlanta’s winter brings 30-degree temperatures in the early morning hours, far from the hot and humid tropical climate of where Lea Rada was born – Venezuela. She is miles away from her birthplace, and yet she is home.

 “I can’t imagine living anywhere else other than Atlanta,” she says. 

Signia by Hilton Atlanta in the heart of the city. (Photo by Andrew Clark)

By 4:30 a.m. Lea Rada is driving down Northside Drive. At her workplace, right next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, steps away from State Farm Arena and connected to the Georgia World Congress Center stands a majestic 453-foot-high, brand-new building. It’s still dark out, but the moon and city lights reflect on the 42-floor glass building. Atop, a sign reads “Signia by Hilton.” 

Chef Daniella Lea Rada, executive pastry chef at Signia by Hilton Atlanta. (Photo courtesy of Signia by Hilton Atlanta)

Lea Rada is executive pastry chef for Signia by Hilton Atlanta, the city’s largest Downtown, ground-up hotel development in 40 years. As the 976-room hotel is expected to open in January 2024, the mornings are early and the days are long for the opening team, including the pastry team. 

By 5 a.m., Rada walks into the pastry kitchen, which will soon be running 24/7, preparing all house-made desserts, pastries, chocolates and more for the hotel’s food and beverage offerings – Capolinea, Nest on Four, Homespun, Friendship Market, Lobby Bar, Highball and Club Signia, not to mention welcome amenities, in-room dining and banquet events. It’s a big production and a big responsibility.

“Let me show you our office,” says Lea Rada as she opens the door to a spacious office located inside a kitchen dedicated exclusively to the pastry team. “We actually get to have an office. That’s a first for me. We are usually stuffed in some corner of the kitchen.”   

With its own storage room, dishwashing station and even a temperature-controlled chocolate room, the space and the shiny, freshly unwrapped tools are not the only exciting thing for the 17-chef pastry team. It is an all-female team in the male-dominated food industry. 

“It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. We are all female chefs and from nine different countries,” says Lea Rada, who spent a lot of time strategically building her team made up of professionals from Japan, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, India, Kenya, Colombia, Peru and Atlanta. 

Chef Yoon Choi, Chef Daniella Lea Rada and Chef Ahisha Day are the leaders of Signia by Hilton Atlanta’s pastry team.

It’s a refreshing sight, as women are underrepresented in the food industry at all levels. According to the National Restaurant Association, 69% of mid-level workers in the industry are women, but that representation drops steeply to 38% at higher levels. Additionally, the “Women in the Food Industry” study by McKinsey & Company shows that the numbers are significantly lower for women of color, who make up only 3% of executive positions. The lack of growth in the industry for women can be linked to the fact that they are less likely than men to serve in roles where they have the potential to be promoted. 

“The first thing I tell each is to learn what they are doing because then they will be teaching,” Lea Rada says. “I have a team of women who want to learn, be better and grow. And, we will do just that.” 

“I actually interviewed with (Lea Rada) before and, at the time, I was not really what she was looking for,” says pastry cook Ashley Hilaire. “That interview was so profound to me because I had never had a chef sit down and tell me why they’re not going to hire me. It’s mostly just a no. But, she walked me through it. She gave me more techniques that I could look up, and she even gave me some books that I could check out.” Today, Hilaire is lead pastry cook under Lea Rada’s leadership at Signia by Hilton Atlanta. “I thank her for not hiring me back then because it gave me more motivation to go back and learn more,” Hilaire says. 

Chef Lea Rada finishes up eclairs with lead pastry cook Chef Ashley Hilaire. (Photo by Daniela Cintron)

Rada aims to overcome many of the challenges she and other women have faced in the industry, such as having to choose between their careers and motherhood. 

“Someone on my team told me that she has two kids and has never had a Sunday off in her career,” Lea Rada says. “That sticks to you. So, my goal is to make a difference and make sure they don’t have to feel that way.” To achieve the goal in such a massive property, she will rely on training leaders to be teachers, rotating schedules and a strong leadership presence throughout the 24/7 operation.  

Atlanta inspired cheesecake is one of the many pastries on the menus at Signia by Hilton Atlanta using local ingredients and with a meaningful story behind it. (Photo by Daniela Cintron)

The diversity of the pastry team is evident on the menu. 

“We are able to bring a different world in pastry to Atlanta,” says Lea Rada who designs the menus along with her team, bouncing ideas off each other and ensuring that their personalities and stories show through their creations. 

“I was inspired to become a pastry chef because of my grandmother. She was the baker of the town,” says pastry sous chef Aisha Day, who was born and raised just one hour south of Atlanta in Griffin, Ga. 

“Every Sunday we’ll go to church and she’ll sell her cakes and her bread.” In honor of Day’s grandmother, Thelma’s Biscuits will be featured in one of Signia’s menus. “It’s a piece of me,” she says.

Friendship Market is an all-day cafe and boutique market at Signia by Hilton Atlanta.

After a long day of baking, meetings and planning, the clock strikes 6 p.m. and Lea Rada starts the one-hour drive home. 

“Can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been doing,” she says. “It’s going to be amazing to be able to just wow everyone.” 

Signia by Hilton Atlanta is set to open in January 2024.

Born and raised in Mexico, Daniela is a bilingual journalist living in Atlanta. She is passionate about telling stories that highlight the diversity and the blooming gastronomic scene in Atlanta.

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